Tag Archives: parenting

D-Day 1

1 Apr

April 1st is D-Day 1 in college admissions, the date by which all colleges will have notified their applicants as to whether they have been admitted, wait-listed, or rejected (I’ll get to D-Day 2 later). Last Thursday the 29th the Ivy League universities released their regular decision results. That evening, my daughter trolled Facebook to see who got admitted where. To her surprise, there were few postings on her news feed.

The next day she found out why. Someone in her class called it a Bloodless Massacre. Many of the students in the top 5% of the class were shut out of their top choices. The presumed valedictorian was rejected from Harvard (but no need to feel sorry for her because she got into Yale, MIT, and Princeton). According to my daughter, only one person was admitted into Columbia, one was admitted into Harvard, two got into Brown and two into Dartmouth. Between regular and early decisions, Penn and Cornell have each admitted at least half a dozen students. We will know more in June when the guidance office releases a list of where everyone will be attending college.

The initial impression is that it is more difficult than ever to get into the Ivies, even for those who rank in the top 5% of the class. According to Harvard’s website, there were 3,800 applicants who ranked number one in their class and there are only a little over 1,650 freshmen places. This is a reminder that at the most selective institutions, the colleges can fill their incoming classes at least twice over with qualified candidates.

Other than the low numbers of students from our high school getting into the Ivies, there were other shockers too, of students who got in somewhere that their classmates did not expect them to. In this sense, this year is no different than other years. In the end, we do not know the complete picture of what is in a student’s application and what goes on in the admissions committee. That’s why it makes for a confounding experience each year for everyone on this side of the admissions process.

To be sure, the disappointments will be deeply felt, but the reality is that here in America, we have more choices in quality higher education than in a lot of other countries. In my experience of talking to college students at different universities, most seem happy with where they eventually ended up. And that is no small consolation and hope that we can offer as parents.

Next D-Day is May 1st, when the colleges hear back from their accepted students as to whether they will enroll.


The PTO Years

19 Mar

I stared at the email announcing the next Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) meeting. A slight twinge of – indigestion perhaps – gripped me as I moved my mouse pointer back and forth over the “Delete” button. After a brief pause and thinking, “I really should go to this meeting,” I clicked the mouse and sent the email hurtling into cyber-oblivion.

Once upon a time I attended every PTO meeting I could. I signed up to volunteer whenever possible, whether it was snack duty, reading to the class, or helping out a teacher with an in-class project. The reward was in seeing my daughter’s look of delight when I showed up in her classroom. “That’s my mommy,” I heard her say to her classmates, with a note of excitement, pride and happiness in her voice. A feeling of tender warmth would course through my body.

The elementary school years were rich with opportunities to volunteer. At Back-to-School nights, not wanting to appear overly aggressive, parents nevertheless jostle each other in their rush to sign up to help in the classroom. If you arrive to the evening late, the best slots were taken. Attendance at PTO meetings was robust as we listened with rapt attention to the principal’s reports, raised our hands to ask probing questions about academics and socialization, and prided ourselves on our involvement with our children’s education.

During middle school, parents were discouraged from volunteering in the classrooms in the belief that it was no longer “developmentally appropriate” for us to be there. Instead, parents were asked to help with fundraising events that took place elsewhere on school grounds. At the PTO meetings, there would be about a dozen attendees. I was given a reprieve from PTO meetings when we moved to Ireland where the schools do not have PTO meetings.

Returning from Ireland, I went back to attending PTO meetings for the first three years of high school. Attendance was robust at the beginning of the year, especially when the head guidance counselor was asked to speak at the first meetings. The room would fill up with parents eager to find out about what to expect in the high school years. Already in freshman year I could sense rising parental anxieties about college in the form of questions about class placement, AP courses, and standardized testing.

When senior year began, I found myself feeling lackadaisical about attending the meetings, even the first one where the head guidance counselor spoke, so I decided to skip them. It was as if I had been struck by senioritis, the condition of disengagement and lack of motivation usually experienced by high school seniors during their second semester. I didn’t know it could affect parents too.

So as the email disappeared from my inbox, I realized that the twinge I felt was for the end of an epoch, for 13 years of PTO meetings that passed by in a blink of God’s eye. With that, only one thought emerged: time to move on.

Thank You Amy Chua

12 Jan

Amy Chua’s essay in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) about Chinese parenting has struck a collective nerve with a jolt not unlike the one you experience when the dentist probes your sensitive teeth during an examination.  To date that article has generated over 3,500 comments on WSJ’s website.  Will it reach 5,000 comments before this dies down?  Bookies are standing by waiting to take your bets.

Seriously, in the interest of full disclosure, I have Ms. Chua to thank for the record number of visits to my blog.  Thank you all for reading my two cents’ worth and for your many comments.

For better or for worse, her article has already affected the way I parent:

I allow my daughter to watch TV and DVDs as long as she finishes her schoolwork and studying.  I also allow her to play her iPod music when she’s doing homework (I do have misgivings about this one but that’s another story).  So today being a snow day in our area, we all woke up to a more leisurely pace.  I just treasure snow days for giving us a break from our busy lives.

My daughter puts on a Taiwanese DVD to watch while she eats breakfast.  It’s a typical soap opera: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy gets cancer and amnesia (what are the chances?), girl marries someone else, boy is cured of cancer and amnesia, blah, blah, blah.  In real life, amnesia does not happen that often but apparently a high percentage of it occurs in Taiwan.

I ask her about her plans for the day and she tells me about the homework she has.  Thanks to Internet connectivity, her teachers can assign additional homework on snow days and they have.  She then turns her attention back to the Taiwanese soap opera and continues to watch it even though she has finished breakfast.  I hesitate and frown, feeling like I should tell her to stop watching and get going.  Then I realize exactly what is going on: Amy Chua is making me question my parenting decisions.

Perhaps guessing what was on my mind, my daughter says to me, “You know, it’s just as important to relax too.”

Thank you Ms. Chua.



28 Oct

Dave Marcus’ essay in the New York Times last week (“A Father’s Acceptance: His Son Won’t Be Following His Ivy Footsteps”) moved me deeply because he aptly articulated some of my struggles as a parent of a college-bound teen.

In looking at colleges, I talk to my daughter about the importance of finding the “right fit.”  I talk about how we should focus on schools that offer the academic programs that she wants, in the type of environment that she will be happy, instead of choosing a school for its prestigious name.  I tell her that she doesn’t need to attend an Ivy League school to get a superb education.  All this advice is consistent with what guidance counselors and admissions officers tell students.  So why is it that I feel like I’m trying to convince myself?

In my head I know that she need not go to a brand name school to be successful – however success is defined, a subject for another post – but in my heart, like Mr. Marcus, I fantasize about how great it would be if she were to attend ____ University.  My head and my heart are antipodes apart, seemingly irreconcilable.  So it is from this place of schizophrenia that I parent.

In our well-manicured suburban community in northern New Jersey, so many residents are accomplished, successful professionals and captains of industry.  They push their children as hard as they push themselves to achieve and achievement is often equated with getting into a brand name college, defined as an Ivy League or comparable school (Stanford, Duke, Amherst, Williams, etc.).  Based on where our local high school’s graduates have gotten into college in previous years, the results of such pressure have been impressive.  Many children have been able to fulfill their parents’ expectations, and maybe their own too.

All of this is not without consequences, of course, chief of which is an inordinate amount of stress and pressure on the children.  In addition to parental pressure, there is strong peer pressure to do well, to get into AP classes, to compete for leadership roles in extracurricular activities, to get top grades.

My heart aches for my daughter as she encounters such pressure.  She gets little sleep, is tired most of the time, toils endlessly over homework, stresses over exams, and is pressed for time.  There’s little time to relax; she is even reluctant to miss school when she’s not feeling well.  Seeing all this, I try to keep my own desires and expectations in check, to not put additional pressure on her.  But in moments of truthful clarity, I know that like the other parents in my town, I am just as enamored of the brand name colleges and by the package that comes with them – the prestige, the bragging rights, the status, the validation of one’s parenting abilities.

Judging from the response Mr. Marcus received to his piece, there are a lot of people who wrestle with similar issues.  In writing about this, I am trying to be honest about my own struggles between my conflicting head and heart in the hopes that I can do right by my daughter.  Already I feel that a burden has been lifted, a loosening up of strong emotions, and that in itself is a good sign.


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